Cheap, compact, stylised and up to date, the Sony Xperia Tipo is off the bat a contender in the budget phone category with its £89 price tag, pocketable form factor and characteristic design. What really sets it apart from other phones under £100 is the fact it ships with Ice Cream Sandwich, giving you a current version of Android and the arsenal of apps in the Google Play Store.

Sony Xperia Tipo: Design

What we love about the Tipo’s design is its character and contrast. Flat and curved, matte and glossy, playful and classical. We normally shudder when too much toying takes place, as indeed we did with the ZTE Kis, that said, the Sony Xperia Tipo strikes a fine balance.

The recessed chin at its base gives the Tipo’s fascia an embossed presence. Three capacitive buttons and a 3.2-inch screen sit on the flat fascia while an Xperia insignia decorates the curved, glossy chin. The Tipo’s removable back cover is a matte hard plastic and adds to the illusion of premium.

Connections and ports are kept to a minimum with a micro USB port and 3.5mm jack along the left hand side and top. Buttons consist of a volume rocker at the top and right, and power button that is too shallow, spongy and difficult to locate by touch.

Sony Xperia Tipo: Screen

The Sony Xperia Tipo’s little body comes with a 3.2-inches screen. So while size is small, HVGA 480x320 pixel resolution is respectable and pictures and text look crisp enough. Viewing angles aren’t anything to shout about, and neither is brightness -  outdoor viewing is a challenge in bright sunlight.

Fortunately, the Tipo's screen is responsive. It feels a little grippy on first use, but smoothes out, perfectly suiting people with smaller hands.

Sony Xperia Tipo: User Interface

The Sony Xperia Tipo delivers Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which is a pretty big deal at its price point. It’s great to see Sony finally delivering new versions of the OS on products, making the Tipo the cheapest mainstream device on market to get it.

On top of Android 4.0 is Sony’s rich user interface, has come a long way since the Xperia X10 and its Timescape UI. Now, customisation is evident without being overbearing, delivering five homescreens, a host of exclusive widgets and apps and a customised camera UI.

Frame rates are smooth when gliding between menus, while animations look charming and there are a host of themes which really help personalise the Tipo.

Sony’s stock keyboard is pre-installed, providing a pretty good experience, though it can stutter on occasion. Improve it by turning on the Swype style gesture input.

Sony Xperia Tipo: Camera and Multimedia

With a 3.2-megapixel fixed focus camera, the Sony Xperia Tipo will suit very casual snappers and Instagrammers. Detail is soft when exported and the lack of autofocus or flash rules out macro or night time shooting. In good lighting, you can get respectable shots given the price tag. Click the images below for full sized samples.

VGA video looks OK on the device itself, when exported the picture is too low resolution for comfortable playback on an HD TV and there's a slight murmur in the audio.

There’s an attractive, comprehensive music player on the Tipo which coupled with the pebbly body, 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD card support transforms this £89 smartphone into a very capable MP3 player. Rounded audio quality really helps things along.

Sony Xperia Tipo Review: Connectivity and Storage

With 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS on board, there’s little room for complaint when using the Tipo as a connected device. Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich means you can also install Chrome Browser and get synced with your desktop in an instant.

On the subject of browsing, the 800MHz processor gallantly copes with most web pages, but stumbles on heavy sites. We tested flash video and it wasn’t great, so we’d suggest using the YouTube app for video content. Despite being sharp, the small screen size will make web browsing heavy on the pinching and panning.

We’re heartily impressed with storage on the Tipo. There’s in excess of 2GB out of the box with support for an additional 32GB via microSD card.

Sony Xperia Tipo: Performance and Battery

800MHz and 512MB of RAM are well suited to powering the attractive UI and simple day to day tasks, though anything too intensive will result in a little slowdown. As far as gaming goes, it can handle basic 3D thumb thumpers like Temple Run pretty well, though anything more intensive and you can expect stagger.

Battery life is a strong point on the Tipo. With relatively low power demands (thanks to the 3.5-inch HVGA screen and 800MHz processor), the 1500mAh battery lasts and lasts. Our review sample lasted well over 2 days no, which for a smart phone with sync on is pretty great going.

Sony Xperia Tipo: Conclusion

The Sony Tipo represents smart styling, great battery life and exceptional value. The fact there’s Android 4.0 on board means you’re in a great position as far as app support goes and Sony’s UI tweaks are (for the most part) complementary. It could be more powerful and the screen could be bigger and sharper, but for £89 off contract, we really are nit picking. The only area it really falls behind is in terms of the camera, with its 3.2-megapixel fixed focus unit lagging behind the £80-100 pack. All in all though, another solid phone from Sony and one of the most compelling budget phones available.